George Mason University (Mason) engaged with Attain Partners to assess its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) strategy leveraging our proprietary Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Allyship (IDEA) Performance Maturity Framework. Attain Partners used this comprehensive assessment to evaluate the effectiveness of the university’s current DEI programming, initiatives, and processes as well as provide strategic recommendations to optimize the University’s efforts towards accomplishing long-term DEI goals.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are Imperative for Success in Higher Education
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are imperative to fulfilling the mission of Higher Education institutions—ensuring that students benefit from a rewarding educational experience in preparation for future success in the workforce and in life. Diversity in schools enhances the student experience, allowing students, faculty, and staff to learn from those with different perspectives and experiences; foster respect and appreciation for those of distinct backgrounds; and set them up for success when entering and/or working in an increasingly diverse workforce.
Cultivating a diverse and inclusive culture also allows institutions to attract new students. With a multitude of higher education options, today’s market is competitive. Students are now outspoken about their desire for a greater sense of belonging as well as their need for institutions to be intentional about promoting inclusive cultures and providing more equitable access to resources that contribute to success. This includes taking affordability measures, such as providing application fee reimbursement and tuition support, while also funding student activities that support a diverse campus community. Catering to these needs has become essential to ensuring accessibility. As institutions increasingly serve diverse student populations, it is just as important to ensure faculty and staff representation mirrors this population.
How does an institution assess the current culture of its campus as it relates to DEI? And further, how can a college or university strategically foster an equitable, diverse, and inclusive culture amongst faculty, staff, and students? There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer—Attain Partners uses our Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Allyship (IDEA) Performance Maturity Framework to evaluate, measure, and recommend practices to ensure diversity, equity, and inclusion are a core part of an institution’s culture.
Serving The Diverse Community at George Mason University
Located within the National Capital Region—an international crossroads that continues to grow more racially and ethnically diverse—George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university—educating over 39,000 students from 130 countries of origin and all 50 states—with 34% of their undergraduate students being the first in their families to earn a four-year degree. In serving this robust community, Mason has strengthened its commitment to providing an inclusive and innovative academic community to further its mission to create “a more just, free, and prosperous world.” With minimal achievement gaps across student demographics, Mason has continued to provide an accessible and affordable education for those who seek a high-quality academic experience.
Devoted to its mission, Mason’s goal is to guarantee that all members of the community feel welcome and able to achieve excellence without hindrance. With the recent appointment of President Gregory Washington in 2020 and the launch of the Anti-Racism Inclusive Excellence (ARIE) Task Force, Mason strengthened its commitment to eradicate practices and traditions of racial bias at the University. To lead the effort towards furthering Mason’s commitment, Dr. Sharnnia Artis joined the university in Fall 2021 as the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer. Dr. Artis recently engaged with Attain Partners to evaluate and assess the current DEI landscape across the University as Mason strategically looks towards the future.
Delivering on University Stakeholders’ Needs
Attain Partners strategy experts used our proprietary Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Allyship (IDEA) Performance Maturity Framework to perform a comprehensive review of Mason’s DEI practices. Our IDEA Performance Maturity Framework employs over 250 criteria across the 5 tracks of Training and Education, Regulatory/Compliance, Governance, Pipelines, and Brand. The criteria are comprised of a comprehensive repository of DEI best practices based on extensive research, benchmarking, and subject matter expertise. Each criterion is assigned a weighted score within the five aforementioned tracks, is embedded within our tool, and is used to inform the tool’s scoring mechanism which then evaluates and assigns a level of performance maturity ranging from ‘Foundational’ to ‘Optimized.’ Upon completion of field work activities related to assessing the DEI activities and once the performance maturity level was ascertained, we delivered an in-depth analysis and recommendations for program optimization to Dr. Artis.
Executing a Comprehensive Strategy Evaluation
Attain Partners implemented a three-phased approach to fulfill the project objectives, which involved planning and stakeholder identification, program assessment, and reporting. As part of the planning phase, our engagement team of Prosci® certified change management practitioners conducted a comprehensive stakeholder analysis to ensure the assessment included the appropriate stakeholders across the campus community. This stakeholder analysis is essential in ensuring that the assessment process is inclusive and promotes community buy-in and engagement.
The program assessment phase included a thorough review of documentation to understand how DEI is embedded within the university’s enterprise. Coupled with stakeholder outreach activities across faculty, staff, and students within 16 units and 11 schools and colleges, the Attain Partners team used our innovative IDEA Performance Maturity Framework to catalog the data and insights gathered, identify key strengths and opportunities for growth, and provide an overall score for the university.
Mason’s score was measured against the Attain Partners IDEA Performance Maturity Framework—ranging from ‘Foundational’ to ‘Optimized’—to ascertain the University’s DEI maturity level. This provided us with the information necessary to present Mason with actionable recommendations to realize DEI strategy optimization.
“The Attain Partners team was phenomenal, and I could tell they were passionate about our success. I was particularly impressed with Attain Partners’ expertise in DEI in higher education. They were knowledgeable, engaging, and collaborative throughout the entire process and shared effective communication tools, protocols, and resources with our team along the way. We appreciated their attention to detail as well as their flexibility—the considerate and collaborative way they engaged with us left room to improve the analysis as it occurred, ensuring a smooth process overall.”
– Sharnnia Artis, Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer
Delivering a Plan for Program Optimization
Upon concluding the extensive review of Mason’s DEI strategy, Attain Partners delivered an all-inclusive report with actionable recommendations that can help to drive towards achievement of the university’s strategic plan priorities and outcomes:
- Enhance the DEI structure of their Academic and Administrative Units—delivering updated organizational charts denoting how various roles and departments should collaborate to support their DEI initiatives.
- Identify funding opportunities to strengthen organizational structures and support their roadmap for optimization.
- Develop standardized guidance and toolkits to streamline DEI efforts across the university.
- Improve their Inclusive Excellence Plans—comprising detailed refinements by school/college to support goals to increase the diversity of faculty, staff, and students, retain community members of diverse backgrounds, and improve funding and engagement in programming, scholarship, and research.
Attain Partners completed this groundbreaking project with George Mason University in August 2022. Our report and recommendations will be an essential guide for Mason’s DEI Leadership and the development of their future strategic direction as they continue to implement important initiatives that further anti-racism, inclusivity, and access across the community. The University will use this detailed information to continue cultivating a dynamic Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion program that will position the institution as a leader within the Higher Education community, advancing their program toward an optimized state where DEI is a competitive advantage.
“As a key deliverable, Attain Partners provided us a report that helps us understand our strengths and gaps in DEI as well as identifies areas where we can take immediate action to improve. These results will be used to inform our strategic direction and the strategic actions we prioritize to become a more diverse and inclusive institution. I highly recommend working with Attain Partners and utilizing their IDEA Performance Maturity Framework to provide actionable insight into DEI at your institution.”
– Sharnnia Artis, Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer
Read about our Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Allyship (IDEA) Transformation Services here.
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About the Authors
Melany Barrett is a Manager in the Management Consulting practice of Attain Partners. With nearly a decade of experience in Higher Education, she has demonstrated knowledge in business process improvement, project management, research administration, and faculty affairs administration. Prior to Attain Partners, Ms. Barrett supported Higher Education administration and strategic initiatives as a member of an internal consulting team. She is a Prosci® Certified Change Management Practitioner with knowledge and training in the field and holds an MBA from Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.
Maureen Goldman is the Associate Director of Marketing and Communications at Attain Partners. Maureen stewards the firm’s digital brand, leading its social media presence, website, digital content strategy, and email marketing campaigns. Maureen is passionate about sharing the powerful transformation work we achieve for our clients. Maureen has a B.A. from Northwestern University and her M.A. from George Mason University.
Jenifer Parker is a Senior Professional with the Corporate Services Team at Attain Partners. With a passion for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Ms. Parker has experience in helping organizations develop their DE&I strategies, leveraging her professional training in Diversity & Inclusion. Prior to working at Attain Partners, Ms. Parker led a corporate DE&I program at a private firm in Alexandria, VA. She holds a professional certificate in Diversity & Inclusion from Cornell and earned a Bachelor of Arts from Wake Forest University.
Reshma Patel-Jackson is a Managing Director and Practice Lead for the Management Consulting business of Attain Partners. She is responsible for and involved in a wide range of consulting initiatives, primarily on change management, strategic planning, business process improvement, organizational assessments, project management, and research administration. Mrs. Patel-Jackson is a Prosci® Certified Change Management Practitioner who has extensive knowledge and training in the field. She has provided strategic planning, project management, change management, internal audit, compliance, and costing services for a variety of nonprofit, higher education, government contracting, and commercial clients.